The queue moved so slowly, and with each passing minute, my anxiety soared. After some time, the guards asked me to stand on the side while they examined my bag. I noticed them whispering to one another while they sorted through my belongings. Minutes later, they approached me.
NAIROBI, Kenya — As a 51-year-old single mother with no source of income, I struggled to make ends meet every day. I grew desperate, and my situation led me to engage in a risky business. An old friend asked me to smuggle drugs for her and promised me a lot of money in return. It seemed like a solution at the time, but it cost me greatly.
At home, our living conditions worsened with every passing day. I did my best to keep food on the table when I could. With my son facing college and my mother struggling with deteriorating health, I felt completely helpless. We desperately needed money.
A long-time friend approached me, offering an opportunity to change my circumstances, so I took it. She appeared genuine when she told me the job was safe. After our talk, she handed me $100.00 as a down payment on the spot. She promised the remaining $5,000.00 once I completed my end of the deal. I stared at the money in disbelief. I appeared that the solution to all my problems fell into my hands.
We planned a one-time transaction. She told me I had to smuggle heroin. I felt terrified, knowing the risks and consequences it entails, but felt I had no other choice. It seemed like my only way out. She asked me to deliver the parcel to an anonymous individual in the Seychelles.
The plan felt seamless, from the taxi picking me up to the hotel where I would stay. She assured me their agents in the field secured the route and I would be safe. After I agreed, she made the booking, and delivered a suitcase to me on the day of departure. I informed my family I would be gone for 10 days and made my way to the airport.
Getting through customs at Kenya’s airport proved easy. When I made it past security, relief replaced my nervousness. I gained confidence for the rest of the trip. After landing at the Seychelles, all passengers filed through security once again. That part took an awfully long time. The queue moved so slowly, and with each passing minute, my anxiety soared. After some time, the guards asked me to stand on the side while they examined my bag. I noticed them whispering to one another while they sorted through my belongings. Minutes later, they approached me. The guards informed me I would be escorted to a private room. I began to panic.
For three hours I sat alone in the room with no windows. My mind raced with thoughts. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I tried my best to stay calm. I had no one to contact for help. When the guard finally returned, the questioning began. “What are your intentions in the country,” he asked. “What are you carrying in your suitcase?” He became more and more insistent. “Where did you come from? Who are you meeting?” I had no answers for him. “Where is the package going,” he pushed on.
The woman who offered me the job gave me no background information. How could I help? Soon, more guards came into the room. They took me outside to a taxi and drove me to a hotel, where I stayed the night. The next morning, people arrived to take my fingerprints. They confiscated the money I had and my cell phone. They left me with the clothes on my back. The authorities informed me I faced changes for attempting to smuggle drugs into the country.
For three months, they held me on remand as they conducted investigations. The trauma of the arrest led to high blood pressure, and I experienced heavy bleeding. Shortly afterwards, I underwent an operation had my uterus removed. Eventually, my court date arrived. When the judge found out I lacked an attorney, the court appointed one. The trial ensued and the judge found me guilty. He sentenced me to 12 years in prison.
My thoughts immediately turned to my son. Who would look after him, I wondered. I felt so ashamed, and I cried until I had no tears left inside me. As soon as the judge handed down the verdict, the officers took me to prison. They allowed me a single phone call. I called my son and told the truth about what happened. His words reassured me and gave me strength to face my situation.
After six years of imprisonment, a Kenyan official visited a group of us as part of an exchange program still under negotiation. They asked if I wanted to be transferred back to a Kenyan prison. I refused and demanded to stay. Prisons in the Seychelles felt slightly safer and offered more than Kenyan prisons. I became a member of several personal development programs and initiatives offered to prisoners.
They also offered us something called a restorative justice acceptance program, where we learned to deal with rejection, forgiveness, and reintegration into society. Along the way, I developed a passion for gardening. My responsibilities included working in the forest, tapping cinnamon bark, making tea for my fellow inmates, and overseeing our Bible study. A Christian group visited me in prison regularly. I reflected on my life a lot during that time, and I soon became an integral part of the prison. However, I still yearned deeply for my freedom.
During my time in jail, I met the President of Seychelles during one of his routine visits. When we interacted, he appeared impressed by my impeccable track record. He asked, “What is your one wish?” I told him I desperately wanted to see my son and my sick mother again. He took down a note. A few months later, after seeing me on television giving an interview on the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation, he ordered my immediate release for good behavior. It became the happiest day of my entire life. I could barely believe it.
In total, I served eight years of my 12-year sentence. I was finally going home. Security drove me to the airport and set me free. Around midnight on January 1, 2020, I arrived in Nairobi. Early the next morning, I called my son. We enjoyed a heart-warming reunion. During my imprisonment, he married and had two children. I cried as I embraced my grandchildren for the first time.
Seeing my mother again also felt incredible. Her illness had worsened, but she was still there. She never found out about my time in prison. I asked everyone to keep her in the dark. She passed away two years after my release. It broke my heart, thinking of all the time stolen from us because of one dumb mistake. Even now, three years later, I am still piecing my life back together. I know what it feels like to live as an ex-convict, and the stigma surrounding you. Nevertheless, I feel so grateful to be free.
Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.
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